Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Lost in Film Noir: Dark Passage Through a City of Shared Loneliness....
In so many ways, a movie can pull us into its world and hold us captive for irrational reasons. No wonder nobody can agree on top ten lists. What enthralls me may bore you. So much depends on what we bring to the screen. I’ll be the first to admit that the moody late forties nightscape of San Francisco as dramatized in the Bogart-Becall film, Dark Passage, grabs hold of my soul like the city once did in my youth. In it are so many lonely little people living out their lives in quiet little studio apartments inside tall buildings crowded together on tall foggy hills. And when I see a neon sign spelling Fosters Restaurant, I recall busing dishes there — before the city’s subtle sophistication gave way to the in-your-face crowd. Before cable cars hitting the turntable at Market and Powell, when only a few local residents waited to board them, became just another tourist attraction in Disneyland by the Bay.
Dark Passage takes escaped San Quentin prisoner Vincent Parry, played by Humphrey Bogart, into a city of sympathetic loners and opportunists, none of them attached to anybody. Which makes it a searing portrait of shared loneliness: a cabby with a heart played by Tom D’Andrea; a wry plastic surgeon kicked out of the medical profession, brilliantly essayed by Housely Stevenson; Parry’s best and only friend, out-of-work musician George Fellsinger (Rory Mallinson), who dreams of playing his trumpet down in South America; and Irene Jansen (Lauren Becall), a woman who knows that Parry is innocent of the charges that sent him to prison and will risk anything to help him escape the nightmare.
Redemption: It arrives in promising degrees: in a bus station where a lonely man bonds with a lonely woman and her kids; and in South America, where the two leads — well, you must go there yourself.
There is so much more here — for one thing, the story unfolds tautly with not a wasted moment — which makes it hard to understand why this film was so ill reviewed when it was first released. Surfing the net sixty years later, I find many contemporary fans. Count me one. Another superb film in this key is Bogart’s In A Lonely Place. Casablanca? I’ll take the other two. But then again, did I not mention the irrational viewing factor — Minor scenes meticulously shaped. Minor characters who create major moments. The utter cinematic perfection of Lauren Becall. A superb Franz Waxman and Max Steiner score that knows when to go silent. Stunning views of a stunning city. All of it so sadly perfect in black and white.
[originally posted 10/8/08]